Super ladder 2015 replaces what the storm claimed

Super Ladder 2015 is ferried out to Graves.

Super Ladder 2015 is ferried out to Graves.

Remember that big ladder we installed on the dock last spring?

Well the November storms tore it away, and although we spent an afternoon scuba diving to find it, all we came up with was one lousy rung.

But today, friends, behold the new Super Ladder 2015!

All that's left of our 2014 ladder.

All that’s left of our 2014 ladder.

Fortified with double strength rails and bolted right to the stone pier below, this baby should last until … November?

Maybe we should take it down after the season this time. . . .

Hats off to Emmett who helped build it and Mike and Pat who helped ferry it into position using our dock fenders and a spare life ring!

Share Button

Being built on Nantucket: New oak trim for window interiors

Wide interior oak panels for the reconstructed casement windows, made by Karl Phillips of Nantucket.

Wide interior oak panels for the reconstructed casement windows, made by Karl Phillips of Nantucket. Karl copied them from the original 1903 Graves Light architectural drawings.

Seven-foot thick granite walls make for some deep windowsills, and our man Karl Phillips is making up beautiful trim to complement, in his workshop in Nantucket.

These are the side and top panels for the window wells, based off the original native white oak interior built at the U.S. Lighthouse Establishment wood shop in Portland, Maine.

The originals are gone, so we used the 1903 architectural drawings to make copies.

Karl also made reproductions of the original interior doors this winter. Last summer, he built exact copies of the original oak casement windows, among other work.

Share Button

1,400 photos recovered from remote camera

Planes line up to land at Logan.

Planes line up to land at Logan, as seen from the remote camera that survived the winter storms.

Remember the remote camera we installed last year to watch the lighthouse? That’s the one from which we made the stop-action video last summer.

Well, the camera survived the winter after we were thwarted from several rescue attempts.

We just recovered it – battered and bent up almost vertically after being smacked from underneath by a big wave during a winter storm. Much to our surprise, it was dry inside, and yielded 1,400 photos. A few of them are shown here.

The camera is an old digital Canon 5D with a 24mm lens, which we housed in an a steel ammunition box with a round window cut into it for the lens. We waterproofed it, and powered it with a car battery and some solar panels that we bought on Amazon.

Then we installed the camera assembly in a wooden box secured on brackets to the side of the oil house on the ledge across from the light. Lo and behold, the camera survived the winter!

Share Button

Starting springtime at Graves Light

Lynn removes the non-original brass vent cover so that the restored originals can be installed.

Lynn sets a cleaned and restored component of the original USLHS ventilation system.

We started springtime restoration at Graves this year by wrapping up our last winter project, which was to install the original brass vent covers in the watch room.

The heavy cast covers had been lost for decades, but we found them last year, and now they’re back in place.

Lynn is shown at work on one of the vents.

These vents allowed fresh air to flow through a specially designed duct (to prevent rain and seawater from entering) and up into the lantern above where five burners produced the illuminating flame.

In the gallery below, Dave is standing on the snow-covered watch deck, holding one of the original vent covers about to be returned to its space.

Another picture shows the vent cover back in place, flanked by two portholes. We added the portholes, from a steamship that sailed at the time Graves Light was built, to provide light and ventilation in the formerly windowless watch room.

Share Button

Rebuilding the inside of Graves Light – on Nantucket

Making exact copies of the interior doors of Graves Light at Karl Phillips' Nantucket shop.

Making exact copies of the interior doors of Graves Light at Karl Phillips’ Nantucket shop.

The snow and ice haven’t stopped the renovation of Graves Light. We’ve been using the winter months to reconstruct precise reproductions of the original interior woodwork.

Lots going on at the Nantucket workshop of Master Carpenter Karl Phillips.

Karl has finished replicating the interior stairway oak doors, and the deep oak sills of the windows that he built last summer.

One photo shows the sole surviving original interior door, rebuilt and stripped down to the wood, flanked by two reproductions to be installed in the spring.

The original door itself needed major repairs, but it provided us a good template to work from. Original 1903 US Light House Service architectural drawings of the doors helped ensure faithful reproductions.

Karl also built nine new oak windowsills using one rotted original sill (in the foreground of the gallery picture below) as a guide.

Just wait until he installs these with his oak paneling – still under construction – to fill in the deep window pockets!

Share Button

Chillin’ at Graves on a February day


GL 2015.02.07eFinding a rare calm day between back-to-back-to-back Nor’ Easters in February, we chanced a winter maintenance trip to check on leaks, reload the cameras and stuff like that.

The seas were cold and choppy, but when our man Randy made it to the ladder we thought we were “on station.”

Not to be.

An easterly swell out lifted our little dinghy onto the cross-brace of the dock and punched a hole in the side, and it immediately started leaking fast.

We abandonded post and rowed like mad to the safety of the Keepah and Captains Meg and Pat.

Whew – if that dinghy had sunk we’d either be stranded on the ladder or tossed into the sea. Needed a couple of cold Harpoon ales over at KO Pies to settle after that one!

Share Button

‘This Old House’ features Graves Light

The PBS supershow This Old House broadcast a segment on Graves Light, adding animated models of the envisioned renovation and calling Keeper Dave “intrepid” for tackling the “amazing” vacation home project.

Richard Tretheway, who visited Graves earlier to scout out the lighthouse for the August shoot, hosted the segment that aired November 13.

Above is a preview of Episode 7, featuring Graves, as part of an ongoing program on the restoration of a Charlestown, Massachusetts, townhouse. On the program’s website, you can stream the entire episode. About 10 minutes into Episode 7 is the part about Graves Light.

See our This Old House photo album on Facebook. More photos below:


Share Button

The watch room: Before, during and after

Watch Room

Before, during and after the restoration of the watch room, the metal room on the top of the granite tower and beneath the lamp room that contains the light. This set of pictures builds on our previous watch room update.

After Rick Tower of Tower Blast & Paint sandblasted and primed the iron, steel and bronze interior, our crew of volunteers applied black and white marine epoxy paint, while our skilled metalworkers and carpenters installed antique portholes salvaged from an old steam ship.

The lamp room had no windows, and we wanted to add windows to let in light and fresh air, while being as authentic to the period as possible.

Share Button

Facelift just in time for TV advertisement shoot

Still from Harvey window ad, by Redtree Productions.

Still from Harvey window ad, by Redtree Productions. See how different the lighthouse looks after the exterior restoration?

Our summer-long facelift was completed just in time for a local production company to film a television advertisement for Harvey windows.

The ad, produced by Redtree Productions, features a Harvey window being installed in a lighthouse.

PowerwashShot in Boston Harbor, the ad shows Curtis, a Harvey contractor, braving choppy waters to deliver a carefully wrapped, custom-built window to the lighthouse.

The intrepid contractor takes a lobster boat to the rocky ledge and rows the window ashore in a wooden dinghy. He is greeted by a lighthouse keeper. (See still shot above from the ad, and the video directed by Jonathan Bekemeier.)

Freshly cleaned of more than a century’s worth of coal dust and other grime, its stonework all re-pointed, Graves Light glows as it did when it was completed in 1905. There’s even a glimpse of the freshly painted iron stairway railing inside.

In the ad, the lighthouse keeper leads the contractor the curving staircase. The window is neatly installed, showing the Harvey Building Products brand.

All this really did happen, and the Harvey window was installed at Graves Light. But it was just for the shoot. We’re sticklers for staying as close to the original as possible, and one of our workers found an original 1905 casement window, in a rotted oak frame, stored in the oil house.

With that exciting find, we used the original window as a template for nine reproductions. Those were custom-built out of oak and brass, true to the original, by a master carpenter in Nantucket.

But the Harvey ad sure tells a nice story. Here’s Harvey’s Facebook page, and the YouTube video, below.

Share Button

Too close for comfort: The day Army artillery shook Graves Light

Doc 1 May 24 1937Artillery practice before World War II caused one shell to land too close to Graves Light, prompting the Superintendent of Lighthouses to issue a sternly worded letter to the Commanding Officer in Boston.

The 1937 incident was the only time the granite tower was ever shaken.

It happened on May 21 of that year, when the Army’s coastal defense force at Fort Banks in Winthrop practiced shelling Boston Harbor’s narrow outlet to the sea, apparently to ensure that they could strike at any enemy ships trying to enter the port.

The thunderous artillery practice had shattered the keepers’ dinner plates at Graves Light.

Fort Banks was home at the time to two batteries of huge Endicott 1890M1 mortars to defend Boston Harbor against enemy warships.

A total of 16 mortars provided a formidable defense for the harbor. Each mortar was 12-inch caliber, meaning that each fired an explosive shell 12 inches in diameter. Each shell contained between 700 and 1,046 pounds of explosives. Each mortar could hurl the shell between 7 and 9 miles.

A researcher at the National Archives in Washington has discovered carbon copies of the letters exchanged between the US Light House Service and the Department of War from May and June, 1937, settling a matter between the artillerymen and the Graves Light keepers.

The correspondence shows that at about 1:30 on the afternoon of May 21, 1937, the keeper at The Graves phoned his superintendent in Chelsea that during artillery practice from Fort Banks, one shell landed within 200 yards of the lighthouse.

That resulted in a phone call to the commanding officer at Fort Banks, who made sure it wouldn’t happen again.

It seems that no further incidents occurred, though the recorded correspondence, typed on manual typewriters and sent via the Postal Service, took some delays that in retrospect seem curious.

Doc 1 May 24 1937Three days after the incident, on May 24, Light House Superintendent George E. Eaton in Chelsea, sent a letter to the Commanding Officer of the First Corps Area responsible for Fort Banks. (Doc 1 May 24 1937)

Eaton described the matter, making a correction about the distance of the target zone from the lighthouse.

Politely, but with what seems to be a taint of sarcasm, Eaton said that on receiving the phone call on May 21, “the officer in charge at Fort Banks was accordingly communicated with and assurance obtained that further shooting operations would be conducted in the proper direction.”

The lighthouse superintendent then spared no words to express his concern:

“The above is invited to your attention for such action as you may dispose to take in so far as issuing official instructions to the proper parties to make definitely sure that future similar maneuvers will be so carried on as to obviate any possibility of damage or other embarrassment being suffered by the relatively numerous lighthouses and other aids to navigation located in the vicinity in question.”

On the copy retained by the Commissioner of Lighthouses, someone scrawled in the margin, “Entirely too many chances taken with this sort of thing apparently.”

Doc 2 June 15 1937Three weeks later, on June 15, Colonel Clark Lynn, Adjutant General at Headquarters, First Corps Area in Boston, responded formally. (Doc 2 June 15 1937)

“No previous acknowledgement was made,” said COL Lynn, “due to the fact that your letter indicated that the Commanding Officer, Harbor Defenses of Boston, Fort Banks, Massachusetts, had been notified by telephone.”

The colonel assured the light house superintendent that instructions had been issued “to prevent any possible recurrence in the future.”

The same day he received COL Lynn’s letter, Superintendent Eaton wrote a memo to the Commissioner of Lighthouses, recounting the incident and stating that the Army commander “should have formally acknowledged our letter without request having to be made for the same.” (Doc 3 June 16 1937)

A modern Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) chart (fig. 4.2, p. 8) shows that the lighthouse crew was right to be upset: A surface explosion of 700 to 1,000 pounds of TNT would produce severe wounds from flying glass in a building 200 yards away.

The letters appear on this page. Click on each image to enlarge.

Share Button